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El Rio Gangster Testifies He Didn't Kill Teen

May 08, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

An El Rio gang member accused of killing a Rio Mesa High School football player three years ago took the stand in his defense Wednesday, telling jurors numerous times that he did not shoot the teenager.

"I never pulled out a gun on nobody," said Marcus Moralez, 22. He is charged with murder, street terrorism and carrying a loaded firearm in connection with the 1999 death of 17-year-old Frank Miramontez.

Ventura County prosecutors say Moralez killed Miramontez to steal his car stereo and to elevate his status in his El Rio gang. Miramontez, who was not a gang member, was shot point-blank in the head while sitting at the wheel of his parked car on Dec. 23, 1999.

Moralez testified that he was home sick most of that day, leaving only once to walk to a friend's house. When the friend and several others decided to go to an outlet mall in Camarillo, Moralez said, one of the two gang associates he was with flagged down Miramontez's car and asked for a ride.

The two associates, George Navarro and Louie Gutierrez, gave Miramontez money for gas and asked him to take them "cruising" around El Rio. They made a few brief stops, including at Camarillo Premium Outlets, before Miramontez drove back to Moralez's El Rio neighborhood, he told jurors. Moralez said there was never any tension between him and Miramontez during the outing.

"We went back to my house, I walked inside, and I never seen Frankie Miramontez again," Moralez testified.

The account from Navarro and Gutierrez, who testified earlier in the trial, is much different. They said Miramontez became upset with Moralez after the gang member pulled out a six-pack of beer in the car, and after Moralez tried to give the athlete driving directions.

Gutierrez said Moralez pulled out a handgun and fired from the back seat of the car. Both witnesses described clamoring to get out of the vehicle and running from the scene before police arrived.

Moralez explained the discrepancies by saying Gutierrez and Navarro were lying.

"You paid them for their statements," he told Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Aramesh, referring to money both men received from authorities as part of a witness-relocation program.

Aramesh grilled Moralez under cross-examination, opening with the question, "How did you feel when Mr. Miramontez looked into your eyes and pleaded for his life before you shot him?"

She then went down a long list of corroborating witnesses, asking Moralez if all of those people were lying, as well. He said yes, they were.

But Moralez said he was lying when he admitted his involvement in the Miramontez slaying to a jailhouse informant who was tape-recording the conversation.

"He was asking me so many questions, I was just giving him smart remarks back," Moralez testified under questioning from his lawyer, Willard Wiksell. "I thought if I gave him these answers maybe he'd shut up."

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